A Book of Myths

Page: 111

Night was descending, but in the evening light the two gods beheld the glitter of spears, the gleam of brass helmets and of swords, and heard from afar the hoarse shouts of the warriors as they made ready for the great fight on the morrow. Knowing well that her lord favoured the Vandals, Freya asked him to tell her which army was to gain the victory. “The army upon which my eyes shall first rest when I awake at the dawning,” said Odin, full well knowing that his couch was so placed that he could not fail to see the Vandals when he woke. Well pleased with his own astuteness, he then retired to rest, and soon sleep lay heavy on his eyelids. But, while he slept, Freya gently moved the couch upon which he lay, so that he must open his eyes not on the army who had won his favour, but on the army that owned hers. To the Winilers, she gave command to dress up their women as men, and let them meet the gaze of Odin in the dawning, in full battle array.

[Pg 232] “Take thou thy women-folk,
Maidens and wives;
Over your ankles
Lace on the white war-hose;
Over your bosoms
Link up the hard mail-nets;
Over your lips
Plait long tresses with cunning;—
So war beasts full-bearded
King Odin shall deem you,
When off the grey sea-beach
At sunrise ye greet him.”

Charles Kingsley.

When the sun sent its first pale green light next morning over grey sky and sea, Odin awoke, and gazed from his watch-tower at the army on the beach. And, with great amazement, “What Longbeards are those?” he cried.

“They are Winilers!” said Freya, in joyous triumph, “but you have given them a new name. Now must you also give them a gift! Let it be the victory, I pray you, dear lord of mine.”

And Odin, seeing himself outwitted and knowing that honour bade him follow the Northern custom and give the people he had named a gift, bestowed on the Longbeards and their men the victory that Freya craved. Nor was the gift of Odin one for that day alone, for to him the Langobarden attributed the many victories that led them at last to find a home in the sunny land of Italy, where beautiful Lombardy still commemorates by its name the stratagem of Freya, the queen.

With the coming of Christianity, Freya, the Beloved, was cast out along with all the other old forgotten gods. [Pg 233] The people who had loved and worshipped her were taught that she was an evil thing and that to worship her was sin. Thus she was banished to the lonely peaks of the mountains of Norway and of Sweden and to the Brocken in Germany, no longer a goddess to be loved, but transformed into a malignant power, full of horror and of wickedness. On Walpurgis Night she led the witches’ revels on the Brocken, and the cats who were said to draw her car while still she was regarded as a beneficent protectress of the weak and needy, ceased to be the gentle creatures of Freya the Good, and came under the ban of religion as the satanic companions of witches by habit and repute.